This is one of the most common questions we receive at Integrity Practice Sales. And it makes sense – you’ve devoted a huge part of your life to your practice! If you’re thinking about selling your dental practice, understanding practice value is key.
The first thing to note regarding practice value is that, just like the value of anything else, the basic rule of supply and demand applies. A glass of water isn’t worth much. I can get a cold water bottle for 25 cents at Costco – and I can turn on the tap in the office and get one for very close to free. So water isn’t worth much…until you’re lost in the desert. With the sun beating down on your parched skin, a single drop of water may be worth a fortune.
Our goal as practice brokers is to find that one buyer to whom your practice is worth the most. We do this by keeping a large and up-to-date record of buyers looking for practices. We pay attention to their specific criteria and overall circumstances, and we also widely advertising the practice to other prospective buyers for whom we may not have detailed information.
When we go to set a listing price for a dental practice, we are aiming to determine what a willing buyer would offer our seller. From there, we discuss strategies for pricing that depend on the seller’s requirements (financial, timeline, etc.) as well as the local market conditions.
There’s both an art and a science to arrive at the opinion of value for a dental practice. On the science side, there are several guidelines that can be fairly easily applied. You can plug the numbers in and…voila! The application of some industry-standard multiples to your top line collection figure or your bottom line profit figure give us a foundation from which we can begin valuing your dental practice.
Determining the profit figure can be a challenge for anyone looking to value a dental practice. Small business owners (dentists included) are economically incentivized to reduce their tax burden. The job of the CPA is, in part, to help the small business owner limit their tax liability through a set of perfectly normal and legal strategies. These strategies are designed to reduce the ‘profit’ that the business shows on paper without reducing the actual discretionary income available to the seller. When we look at the financial records of any selling doctor, we always consider these strategies and work to “re-cast” the financials as if none of these tax strategies were employed. There are many cases where the profit on a tax return may only be $20,000, but the total cash flow actually available to the seller is more like $250,000 or more.
The application of basic multiples, however, is not all there is to it. The art side of the equation is where things get tricky. Below, I’ll give examples of the formulas, and then show how these formulas can get more complicated.
What do you mean by ‘multiples’? Multiples are ratios that are calculated by dividing the value of an asset by some dental-practice specific financial variable. For example, if we know that practices collecting $1,000,000 per year are selling for an average of $850,000, then the multiple we can use is 0.85. We can then take this multiple and apply it to other practices.
Where do you get these multiples? Since there is no reliable and statistically significant data publicly available for recent transactions of dental practices, these multiples are derived from industry standards and our own private data sources. Additionally, they are regularly confirmed by dental practice finance lenders, who maintain some of the best privately-held data available.
How do you choose the right multiple? Initially, we apply a multiple that is based on location and practice size. However, the final multiple will be a function of location, goodwill, profitability, tenant improvements, equipment and technology, insurance accepted, and other factors.
The basis of this multiples approach is the economic principle of substitution, which says that one would not purchase a business asset for more than one could acquire an equivalent substitute asset. Basically, a buyer would probably not purchase a practice – even if the investment risk was relatively low and the projected reward was high – if that buyer could acquire a similar practice for less.
Valuing Dental Practices:
Simple Example: One of the simplest ways to come up with a value is to apply a multiple to your last year’s collections. For this example, I’ll use 80% – but, as I said above, this number depends on a number of market conditions. So if you collected $1,200,000 last year, this quick rule of thumb would value your practice at $960,000. How easy!
Why this doesn’t work: Not so fast. Imagine that there are two practices, Practice A and Practice B. In both practices, the total collection from last year was $800,000. So they’re both worth $640,000, right?
Let’s take a closer look. In Practice A, the overhead is at 50% of collections, which means that Doctor A takes home a profit of $400,000. Dr. B’s overhead, on the other hand, runs high at about 80%. Dr. B takes home a profit of $150,000. A practice where a doctor makes $400,000 every year is more valuable than a practice where the doctor makes $150,000. The percentage of collections method is helpful, but it does not always give you the whole picture.
Multiple Multiples: We always apply these multiples to both top-line (collections) and bottom line (profit or doctor income). Both of these aspects must be balanced to provide the most accurate value, but at the end of the day, the doctor’s take-home income is what provides a very substantial part of the value for a potential buyer. At the same time, you cannot rely on any single multiple alone. Remember Drs. A and B from the example above? Is Practice A really worth $800,000 and Practice B only worth $300,000? That’s a serious discrepancy in value when compared to the percentage of collection method.
Additional Considerations: In our experience, practice value is influenced by many different, dental-specific factors. These include curb appeal, location (city, neighborhood, professional complex vs shopping center, etc.), the age of the practice and resultant value of the goodwill, the age and condition of equipment, the level of technology in the practice, and the recent income trends of the practice (up or down). This is why it is so important to work with an experienced dental practice broker.
What does it really boil down to?
At the end of the day, cash flow is king. It only makes sense to buy a dental practice if you can make enough money in the practice to pay the overhead, pay the bank, and still generate a reasonable income for yourself and your family. If a practice is valued correctly, it will support the buyer.
Balancing these different valuation methods takes an experienced hand. At Integrity Practice Sales, we look at everything to make sure your practice or any practice you are looking to purchase is correctly valued. Click on the link below to get a free preliminary opinion of value for your practice to assist with your financial planning today.Read More
When most doctors purchase a dental practice, one of the big worries is always patient retention. Most of the value of a dental practice is in the goodwill with the existing patient base, and if those patients choose not to come back, you’re in trouble.
Fortunately, this ALMOST NEVER happens. At Integrity Practice Sales, we work hard to make sure that both buying and selling doctor work together to manage a successful transition.
Many doctors decide to write a letter explaining the transition to patients. This can be a powerful tool for controlling the narrative around the transition and can help patients feel at ease with the new doctor.[Why winning over your new staff is the key to winning over your new patients.]
As with all powerful tools, however, the transition letter can be misused and serve to confuse or worry patients. Remember that patients don’t really care who “owns” a dental practice. In fact, practice ownership rarely crosses their minds.
Instead, they want to know why their doctor is leaving (or becoming less available) and who the new doctor is. In fact, patients can be offended if they read that Dr Seller “sold” her practice to Dr. Buyer.
The transition letter should be used to thank your patients for their loyalty and friendship over the years, explain why you are transitioning (basics only), and then promote the new doctor. Preemptively thank the patients for continuing as patients at the practice and for supporting the new doctor.
Tips for a great transition letter from the seller:
- Have a professional photo taken of Dr. Seller and Dr. Buyer together to use in the letter.
- Write an introductory paragraph explaining the need for the transition and thank them for the years of commitment to the practice.
- Introduce the replacing dentist and include experience and qualifications.
- Dr Seller should become Dr Buyer’s patient and let the patients know this.
- Explain the reason you have chosen this doctor to take over your practice.
- Give a personal view of the new dentist, including hobbies and family.
- Keep this letter enthusiastic and share your optimism regarding the transition.
- Repeat your appreciation and confidence in the new doctor.
Send this letter out AFTER the close of escrow. This cannot be over emphasized. The deal isn’t done until it’s done. Once you close escrow and send out the letter, you’ll also want to call the patients that have scheduled appointments over the next few days since they will be at the office prior to receiving the letter.
A few months into the new practice, the buyer should send out a second letter.
From the new doctor (1 to 2 months after the transition):
- Greet and welcome the patient.
- Talk about your background and experience.
- Discuss common commitment and philosophies with the previous dentist and thank him or her for their support and for creating such a nice practice.
- Thank the patients for such a warm welcome and thank the team for being so supportive and encouraging.
- Encourage the patient to come by to meet you or call with any concerns.
- Express your desire to get to know the patients and promise to listen to their goals.
At Integrity Practice Sales, we provide samples and help the doctors draft ideal transition letters. But no matter who you list with or buy from, following these guidelines will help you retain the value of your new practice and build great relationships that will last for years to come!Read More
Happy halloween, everyone!
I cannot believe that we’re almost through October. This is one of my favorite times of the year. It’s always a relief when the days start to cool down, the leaves start turning, and the days begin to get shorter.
As we reflect on these seasonal cycles, I think it’s a good time to consider the traditional lifespan of a dental practice. Some of you are in your springtime, recently out of dental school, energized and ready to go. Some of you are enjoying the long, even days of summer. Maybe you’ve been practicing for 5 – 15 years, enjoying slow and steady growth and continuing to provide great care for your patients.
As the ‘autumn’ of your career approaches, you can (hopefully!) think back over an enjoyable and rewarding career. You’ve helped thousands of people smile a little bit wider. It’s during this time that you will probably start to think about a transition. It’s also about this time that you’ll probably want to start slowing down, practicing a little bit less, and spending more time with family and friends.
Often, when a doctor comes to us finally ready to sell, we look at the numbers and see a gradual decline year over year. This makes sense and is the natural result of working a little bit less. But it can have a dramatic effect on the value of the practice.
There are great options today for doctors to sell their practice before they start to work less. Selling doesn’t have to mean that you’re done seeing patients! There are some excellent strategies for getting the most value out of your practice before you’re ready to retire, and our great team of agents would be happy to sit down and discuss them with you.
And just because it’s Halloween, here’s a very silly video I just made.